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Virtual Care Within the EHR May Be a ‘Game-Changer’

The Medical University of South Carolina is integrating video visits with its Epic EHR platform, and hoping that clinicians find the workflow to their liking.

By Eric Wicklund

- Virtual visits may be all the rage these days, but healthcare providers have been slow to adapt – for one very good reason.

The video visit may meet the patient’s desire for quick healthcare, but it’s often a nightmare for health systems trying to marry the service to their EHR platform. If the platform requires extra technology or doesn’t mesh with the medical records (or the doctor’s or clinic’s practice management software), it affects the clinician’s workflow. It then becomes more of a hassle than a benefit – the visit doesn’t synch with the patient’s records, misplacing or omitting data or failing to code properly for billing and reimbursement.

The key, then, is to create a virtual care environment within the EHR.

“Care lives in the EHR now,” says James T. McElligott, MD, medical director for telehealth at the Medical University of South Carolina, among a handful of health systems around the country that are pioneering virtual visits on a sustainable and scalable platform. “If you try to do something outside of that platform, there are downstream effects that end up making things very difficult” for the provider.

MUSC recently launched a virtual care solution that connects seamlessly with the health system’s Epic EHR platform. Consumers looking to connect with a clinician via video can now go through MUSC’s patient portal, which features a real-time virtual visit platform from Vidyo.

The program sits on the leading edge of a move to connect patient-facing healthcare with provider-facing telehealth tools. While the nation’s largest EHR providers have been slow to integrate these tools into their platforms, smaller, more nimble companies are making the connection for their clients. That’s pushing the big boys to collaborate with companies like Vidyo and Validic.

And it’s all in the workflow.

“We see time and again that workflow integration and ease of use are crucial factors to physician adoption of telehealth technologies,” Eran Westman, Vidyo’s CEO, said in a recent press release. “Vidyo’s comprehensive API enabled Epic to reduce complexities through native integration of high quality video communication into all applications supporting the EpicCare virtual care and telehealth workflows. We are confident that this integration will improve patient engagement and expand upon the incredible care that the telehealth program at MUSC and numerous other programs are delivering.”

“Telehealth and virtual care are quickly becoming best practices for value based healthcare providers,” Epic President Carl Dvorak added in the release. “We have integrated real-time video directly into the EpicCare workflows of providers like MUSC and are proud of their accomplishments in transforming care delivery in their communities.”

McElligott says the offering is “a game-changer for us” because it enables clinicians to open up the video visit right in the EHR, through a smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer station. That platform then triggers prompts and care management guidelines, enabling the clinician to follow standards of care based on best practices (which, in turn, meets coding and billing requirements).

MUSC is rolling out the platform first in obstetrics and mental health and with some chronic care programs, and will expand as clinicians become used to the routine. McElligott says they’ve already worked out some preliminary agreements with several health plans.

“These kinds of things work very nicely where bundled payments already exist,” he says.

The proof may be in the pudding. As more and more health systems roll out virtual care platforms, critics and advocates alike will be watching to see if they take hold. After all, consumers may think this is the next big thing in healthcare, but if the video visit doesn’t sustain itself or scale up, or if doctors find that it doesn’t meet their needs, it’ll just become another cool toy cast aside after a while.

McElligott has high hopes for this platform.

“The service makes sense, and people are coming on board,” he says. “We hope that this will be one of those catalyst moments.”

Dig Deeper:

Video Visits Gaining Favor Among Providers and Patients

Majority of Patients Want Ease, Convenience of Telehealth

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